Make the most from your ecommerce website

James Holmes, director of SEO and ecommerce agency Blueclaw, explains how you can maximise your sites for SEO and conversions

Amongst all the talk of continuing depression in the UK economy, the ecommerce sector remains one of the few shining lights posting year-on-year growth estimated at between 10 and 15%. In a recent report by The Boston Consulting Group, the United Kingdom’s internet economy was valued at £100billion in 2009, equivalent to 7.2% of GDP, with 60% of this being comprised of online shopping. This report concluded that the UK’s internet economy is expected to reach 10% of GDP by 2015.

Even for sales that don’t happen online, multi-channel marketing recognises the fact that for those retailers with a high-street presence for example, the online presence is often a key influencer for purchasing decisions offline.

Clear and easy

The most important starting point to making the most from your ecommerce site is a clear, easy to use website that will be loved by both users and the search engines. Clear navigation, effective site search, clearly presented product pages with unique content including clear photos and/or videos, great content, such as frequently asked questions, as well as an easy to use checkout process are the basics for maximising your site for both SEO and conversions.

Other elements of site structure can have a significant impact on improving sales. Removing the requirement for customer registration is a quick win for increasing conversions, as is testing alternative versions of the principal checkout pages using Google Website Optimizer.

Faceted search/faceted navigation relates to the search filters that have become popular on larges ecommerce sites like ASOS. Filtering results by style, brand, price or size on a correctly structured website can help boost traffic for long-tail searches. It means that categories, sub-categories and filtered search results can have clean URLs which can be indexed by the search engines. For example, incorporating “black size 9 high heels” into the URL is much more user-friendly than a query string of numbers and characters.

One thing to consider is to include primary and secondary categories in the faceted search results, so that duplicated page results are avoided for results where visitors have clicked on multiple filters in a different order but arrive at a page with the same content.

Aside from site structure, building links remains vital for improving search engine rankings. Creating the best possible content relating to your products and market as well as taking advantage of user-generated content such as reviews is one of the best ways to attract links; by becoming a resource site for your industry. Asking suppliers to link to your site, creating a regularly updated blog and releasing industry news and interesting information related to your business will also help acquire links, ideally from authority sites such as newspaper websites.

It is important not to forget to build links to the top category pages as well as the homepage. A common mistake with regards to content is to use the default product descriptions shared by competitors, creating duplicated content. Well-written and interesting product descriptions can help with both SEO and conversions.

Be social!

Incorporating community aspects into your site can also help with both SEO and conversions, “social” commerce. Customer reviews are a key influencer for visitors to your site. Also, some of the more advanced customer review modules now enable visitors to ask questions and receive answers on individual product pages via their Facebook profiles. These Q&As then go through their Facebook newsfeed and can be aggregated on the company Facebook page too.

Emailing customers automatically a few days after purchase maintains the contact with the customer and also is a great opportunity to get valuable feedback. Incentives for leaving a review such as discount codes or prize draws can also help increase the volumes of reviews received. Community features like these help bring the personal touch to what can be faceless experience on less well-designed sites.

Last year both Google and Bing stated that they are using “social signals” - including Facebook ‘likes’ and tweets - as part of their ranking algorithms, so maintaining an active presence on these sites is an important consideration. Some of the best examples are companies that use their social presence to connect directly with customers rather than just sending out standard marketing messages. Trust is a key driver for converting visitors into customers and aside from the usual site-secure accreditations, real reviews from real customers are a great way to inspire trust.